From Gill Cook:
Roma Easton, "Miss E", "was born in Sheffield in 1902. She had a brother Vivian born in 1906. They went to Cape Town with their parents William Earnest Easton and May Rutley in 1910. They lived also in Johannesburg before returning without William in 1915. Roma went to school in Letchworth; the Arndale School which was a vegetarian, progressive co-educational boarding school. Before leaving in 1921 she had become the sub-editor of the school magazine and captain of the hockey team.
"Miss E. left Caldecott and retired with Miss Travers in Ulster."
Quoted in Elizabeth Lloyd, "The Story of a Community", Roma Easton's memories of staff at Charlton Court:
"I first joined the Community in 1923 having been briefed in London by Miss Potter as to my duties with the Nursery Children and also the part I was expected to play in the wider life at Charlton Court. I had had some experience of Day Nurseries in the Hoxton slums and had had a training, so I thought I might manage the first but was doubtful as to the latter.
My first impressions of Charlton were that life was just a haphazard hubbub: how anything got done I just could not see. There appeared to be no cook, yet we had meals: you never knew whose job it was to get the children up in the morning but they were there for breakfast: it was not clear who was to put them to bed: it might have been your job for the moment but someone had forgotten to tell you. It was later that I found out that there really were not enough staff so that a good deal of doubling-up was necessary, so after finishing with the nursery children in the evening, I had any job which needed doing anywhere; everyone else did this too.
We all worked very hard and for long hours but very happily during the week. Sunday came as a complete change. The children were all scrubbed clean and with fresh clothes and perhaps something new to wear, and they liked the day, with more time to please themselves (not always advantage of the countryside and farmers in particular).
The Chapel was a cared-for and loved place converted from an old farm building and from its roof hung the sweet-toned bell which rang for the Morning Service. There was an historic day when March, the lively cow from the farm, got into the Chapel and ate the Harvest Festival. Years later at Goff's Oak the fan-tailed pigeons went in, followed by the cat, followed by Miss Potter. Squealing baby pigs also found their way in.
It took me at least a year to find out what everything was about. There was first the children, all under fourteen, who came from the back streets of Kings Cross. They were a hurly-burly lot - uncouth, uncultured, often lying, stealing, fighting and rebelling or destroying: some were fond and gentle yet all were so alive, so responsive and loveable; many of them gave great care to the younger ones.
Then there was Phyllis Potter and Leila Rendel who became known as the "Directors"; they had had the vision to start it all and with them some ten others who stand out in memory as a band of able and devoted women whose concern was the development and welfare of the children in their care; they were dedicated and loyal; and how they enjoyed it all!
Because of this it had been possible to create a pattern for the Community: everyone was aware of what was going on and it became natural that certain children became attached to certain staff who in their turn became their special caretaker, a refuge to whom they could always go for protection and encouragement and a fair judgment; there was no sloppy sentimentalism but a very practical relationship often lasting long after the child had left.
I do not know who first thought of the Sunday evening sing-song but at this time, except for Chapel it was the one formal event of the week.
The children had to behave at it and indeed wanted to, for under Miss Potter's hand and with her lovely singing voice and dramatic ability, it flourished and was an outstanding event. Some of the Staff could tell spellbinding stories; Miss Leila, as she was known as, often read poetry and the children did as much as they could - acting stories, singing and dancing.
At the end of the Sunday Sing-Song each child had to get up from the floor, where they had been sitting, and walk out by themselves to music specially played for each child. Some could not manage this: some ran, some progressed sideways, some lay on the floor and some could not even start. But when they had eventually learned to walk out properly and acquired a poise and dignity which undoubtedly helped towards the self discipline so necessary for these children.
But life at this "special" sort of school was not always rosy and endless discussions went on about how best to deal with the many and endless problems. The children had a wide variety of occupations offered them outside school hours: there was the farm work, helping in the garden, the kitchen, weaving, handicrafts and there was carpentry for the boys.
The "crimes" committed were trivial by today's standards, yet were quite bad enough and the farmers round made many complaints; but most things were settled and atoned for by the wilder members; meanwhile the garden cat, Rusty, had her kittens, for safety's sake, up the potting-shed chimney.
There were ever-present financial worries. A meeting was held at one time and Miss Potter asked those of us who received salaries if we could manage on less. I had £56 a year and thought not.
It was suggested that there should be fewer staff and that groups of children should be combined; all this was turned down and we went on as before.
Somehow poverty seemed to unite us yet more strongly: what did it matter if most of the cups were broken and there was no money for more: no one minded using a bowl for tea at breakfast and later using it for porridge. What mattered was that the Community should survive, not that there should be a cup and saucer and bowl for everyone at breakfast.
Some of the duties referred to me as the "wider life" were not carried out very successfully as far as I was concerned.
There was for instance, the first Sunday afternoon walk: the children tended to unite in a rampaging gang when not with anyone who could manage them. I knew no names or anything about the country round. Some thirty children were collected for me and I was told that the older ones among them would lead the walk for me; which they did; straight into a wood where they became primitive man dividing into gangs and it ended in a fierce and literally bloody battle. Knowing no names I could only shout "Hi! You!" naturally with no result. Grabbing the two nearest I dragged them out of the wood, the rest followed later dishevelled and dirty. One little girl had taken all her clothes off but put them on again after much shouting at her.
I arrived back with one child and was thankful to have at least that one. There was an almighty inquest on the afternoon's happenings but what followed I cannot remember, but I only know that the next time I had to take a walk there were no incidents.
Another aspect of the "wider life" was "taking tea". This was done for a week at a time. The first time I took this meal there was uproar until one of the older girls suddenly leapt across the room to the most unruly table, administered slaps all round, re-distributed the plates of food and said a "few words", - there followed a wonderful hush.
I have too a picture in my mind of Miss Potter taking Nursery Prayers out on the lawn one sunny morning and can see those small children standing in a circle singing a hymn, interrupted at intervals by a rough voice shouting "Ring-a-ring-a-roses, all fall down!" and he fell: he was stood up, but fell again at once, still shouting. Up and down he went until it was like a game of skittles: even Miss Potter's eye did not have the usual effect.
Other pictures come to my mind - a small boy spending his "free" afternoon tethered to a gooseberry bush from which he had previously stolen all the unripe gooseberries: a small girl of two who had been so impossibly grumpy that she was finally wheeled in her pram into the field and left by herself under a large oak tree and was later seen laughing and chuckling to herself at the cows who had come over to see who was in their field; with the cows blowing and chewing around her and a wood-pecker drumming overhead she had recovered. On another occasion one very wet day one child had become so impossible that she was finally put into a mackintosh and turned outside where she was seen playing in the storm, poking into the puddles with a stick and shaking more water on to herself from the bushes. She returned from her drenching, a changed child and quite happy again.
Those times spent by themselves often seemed to release the tension in the children concerned and "isolation" for a period of time was carried on in the tradition of the Community.
There was too, the "Battle of the Boots". If a child was sent to bed for some misdemeanour he was very likely to protest at the removal of any garment, but the moment his boots came off he subsided. I can hear Miss Leila saying now, “Quick, off with his boots!"
I feel I have not been able to convey the real essence of those days, more than fifty years ago now. There was the sense of enjoyable, unconventional experiment; the fun, the unity, the hard work, the pleasures and also the exhaustion and depression that could overwhelm one at times; but there was the wonderful way in which Miss Potter would suddenly arrange an evening picnic in the hayfield, or an outing, an entertainment; sweeping everyone along with her enthusiasm ignoring all obstacles.
The Staff of the time were gifted with vivid personalities: they did not consider themselves at all. While reason and affection were the first principles in dealing with the children we had then, we had to be able to shout at them, shake them perhaps, and more; it was what they understood, it was the language of the streets from which they came and it was no use expecting too much of their understanding too soon. The hope was that something had been planted in them which would blossom in the years to come."
Miss E and Baby